Arts » Cover story

Extra helpings: What inspired you to pursue your artistic craft?

In the spirit of the holiday season, local creatives thank the muses that set them on their way



Forget turkey, dressing and grandma's pecan pie. This is not a piece on the gluttony of Thanksgiving, nor is it a reminder of what you, personally, have to be grateful for. Instead, we asked various creative folks around Charlotte: What inspired you to pursue your artistic craft? Their answers were funny, personal and poignant. We hope, as you stuff your face and spend too much time with the fam, that it inspires you to express your own originality. It's never too late to add something to the table.

J.R. Adduci, actor: Al Pacino and his unauthorized autobiography, Al Pacino: Life on the Wire [by Andrew Yule]. That inspired me to try acting out. His life paralleled mine in so many ways; not to mention, his films and acting were the stuff of legends when I was coming up.

Deana "Big Mamma D" Pendragon, burlesque performer: I was inspired by Tempest Storm and The Muppet Show. To this day, I describe Big Mammas House of Burlesque shows as "like The Muppet Show, with tits." When I decided to create the show, I knew I wanted the sexy of Tempest Storm, and the madcap funny of the Muppets. Both have inspirations from vaudeville. I owe the fact that I know who Tempest Storm is to Jody Sullivan of Roxbury Nightclub. He used to run burlesque videos on huge screens over the dance floor at the old Baha Club.

Hank West, actor: Well, the first thing that comes to mind for me was my dad taking me to see Disney on Parade at the Greensboro Coliseum. This was way before what is now called Disney on Ice — we're talking early 1970s. We got there early, so we walked around the coliseum while waiting and we got to the back where all the trailers and setups were for the performance. This beautiful young blonde girl comes out of one of the trailers, smiles and says, "Hello." Well, I'm a big Alice in Wonderland fan, and this girl looked just like Alice. Who knows? She could have been just a prop person or whatever, but I will swear till my dying day this was the Alice who I would see perform in just an hour from this encounter. She was the first "star" I ever met. I had the Disney LP of Alice in Wonderland at home, and I drafted two neighbor friends to perform a song in our living room for my Aunt Myrtle. I thought my aunt was real cosmopolitan and had "connections," so I was thinking she would be so impressed with our dancing prowess to "All in the Golden Afternoon" that she would introduce us to people. I was about 8 at the time. Well, needless to say, she didn't introduce us to anyone, and nowadays I'm really not known for my musical expertise as much as I would like. So, I would say meeting "Alice" in Disney on Parade was my inspiration.

Chip Decker, artistic director at Actor's Theatre of Charlotte: Becoming a director was a natural progression for me. I have been involved in the arts since the second or third grade, when my mom wanted me to learn to play the cello. Hauling a cello through the winters of Vermont sucked, so I took up the trumpet. [It was] way cooler and easier to haul around. Sometime during those elementary years, I saw a touring puppet show of Peter and The Wolf and I can remember being enthralled with the way the music told the story, along with the puppets. Probably that moment defined a lifetime of exploring music and stage craft. I think, every show I do, I always try to capture a bit of that magical feeling I had all those years ago. Many times I fail to recreate those feelings, which only serves to drive me harder and occasionally, usually by hard work and luck, I help create those magical, fleeting moments again. The hope and promise of those transcendent fragments of time keep me ever in the game.

John W. Love Jr., artist/actor/performer: The earliest remembrance was when I realized I was more magical than my crayons. I was 4 and a half, and one of the remaining shards that still had a label on it read "blue-green," which, of course, meant the color would appear on the page as any shade of blue or green I wanted. Even at that age I didn't understand why the box had to have so many sticks when you could just tell one stick what you wanted it to be. Well, no matter how hard I tried, the resulting color never turned out as my version of blue or green, so I simply used that one piece of wax for every color, and when I looked at my drawings and stories, I simply remembered to see all the colors I wanted to see. Since creating magic was non-negotiable, it had to be done; like a big boy, I simply made peace with the fact that I was more magical than my crayons. They could disappoint but my imagination ... never.

Boris "Bluz" Rogers, poet for SlamCharlotte: Well, there is a long story to why I directly became a poet but I think the "what" that inspired me to this level is what inspires most silly little boys to do crazy things: a woman. In fact, a series of important women have lead me to this point. The first would be hearing poet Jessica Care Moore speak at UNC-Charlotte; in one night, she completely changed the way I wrote and even why I wrote. The response she got from the crowd from the message she delivered inspired me to want that. That response. To feel like I have actually helped people through the power of my words. I didn't feel like I was truly creating anything until it moved people to emotion or action or both. So after hearing her speak, the next day I wrote one of the first poems — while in a psych lab — that I actually got a standing ovation for. That was the feeling. It was a poem for women that wasn't about sex, which had been pretty much what I was writing about before and was getting a superficial response that for me seemed to be all I wanted, until Jessica Care Moore.

Sharon Dowell, artist: Since the age of 3, I have always known that I wanted to be an artist. As I grew older, I began to see how art is powerful; it can cause social change, push a viewer to contemplate something greater than themselves or simply bring beauty to a space.

Glenn Griffin, actor/director at Queen City Theatre Company: I can't think of a time when I didn't want to be in the theater, even when I didn't know what theater was! I used to run around in my mother's green tights — why, I don't know — and sing songs from the original Broadway cast of South Pacific. There is still that boy inside of me whenever I am onstage or directing. I have always had this desire to create, and I get a supreme joy whenever I am and feel totally empty when I'm not. There is an energy to creating that I cannot describe, but it's there. When you touch it for the first time, you never want to let it go.

Michael Simmons, director/actor at Carolina Actors Studio Theatre: I have been acting since I was 13. I got my first leading role in The Music Man in high school as a freshman — much to the chagrin of some of the seniors! That led to a drama scholarship in college, where at 19 I hooked up with my acting coach of the next 13 years, Ms. Ray McIntosh, a professional stage and film actor from Scotland. I recall during a Shakespeare scene in Hamlet, I (as Polonius) was delivering "neither a borrower nor lender be ... to thine own self be true," etc., and Ms. Mac, as I called her, looked at me askew and I asked what was wrong. She said, "What are you saying?" and I re-enacted. Then she said in her thick Scottish accent, "Right! I got that. But what are you saying?" Before I could get out my third rendition [of the line], she cut me off and quipped, "You don't know, do you, lad?" Then we started talking about text and subtext and objectives and obstacles and I fell in love with "the work," as she called it. She inspired me to let go of presentation in favor of research and homework and honesty and grounding oneself in the words of the playwright. Her passion became contagious and part of what CAST is today, because I infect as many actors as I can with this same fever/fervor!

Judy Goldman, author: I started writing poems in the third grade. They showed no promise whatsoever! Still, I wrote. I also wrote plays and made the neighborhood children act in them. We put them on in the empty hen house next door. Of course, I was the producer, the director and the star. Then, when I was in my 30s, both my parents were dying at the same time. I could've easily taken to my bed, but instead, I took to my typewriter. I wrote maudlin poem after maudlin poem. That difficult time in my life led to my becoming a writer, led to my getting to do what I love every day. Like the quote from Philip Roth: "Nothing bad can happen to a writer. Everything is material."

John Hairston Jr., artist: There wasn't one thing in particular that set everything else into motion. It was a combination of numerous influences. It was the combination of my mother being into comics, to my father's woodwork, to afternoons watching my grandfather paint, to discovering Heroes Aren't Hard To Find. It was the perfect storm. There have always been little things here and there to keep me focused on my path. So if it wasn't going to the Mint Museum to see the That's All Folks exhibit, then it was being at my grandmother's house after church and seeing [Jean-Michel] Basquiat on cable. It was as though the universe was trying to tell me something the whole time and something in me felt compelled to listen.

Sarah Emery, dancer/choreographer for Moving Poets: I can't say that any one person or experience inspired me. It was more about how it made me feel. When I first started to learn to dance [ballet] at a young age, I realized that it was something that came naturally for me. I felt it was what I was meant to do and it gave me a confidence that I otherwise lacked. When I was dancing, nothing else mattered. I also thrived on the challenge and complexity of the technique. As I matured and became a professional dancer, it became much more than the execution of the dance steps. Now every movement has a meaning. Instead of coming from the mind, my movement comes from the heart. It is my language of self-expression.

Blayr Nias, comedian: The short and easy answer is that I come from a long line of funny people. I have a fun and crazy family and we always told funny stories, jokes and anecdotes at get-togethers, holidays and even funerals. I've been told by my mother that we were "blessed with the gift of gab." How I got started in stand-up is a silly story of how boy-crazy I am. A very attractive young man [Zach Claywell] spoke to me at a comedy event and suggested I try open mics since I was so funny. I was hoping it was just an excuse for him to see me again since I was not trying to display my humor but my "assets" to him. In a week's time, I had a polished and hilarious five-minute set ready; I killed and I was hooked. Side note: Zach never showed up. He got lost on the way to another show.

Mark Young, filmmaker/director: I started my film career as a fine artist. I created large, figurative paintings, usually multiple images juxtaposed against each other, leaving the viewer to interpret their meaning. It suddenly hit me one day that film does the same thing, but more powerfully and reaching a wider audience. So I bought a Bolex 16mm camera, began making films and haven't stopped since.

Julie Scoggins, comedian: The thing that finally pushed me to make it happen was when my husband and I were between jobs, having just moved back to the States from the U.S. Virgin Islands. After a two-month vacation, where we tent-camped our way around the country, we decided it was time to figure out what to do for a living. During that time, we went to shows at The Comedy Zone — then on Independence Boulevard. We went on Wednesdays because we got in for free and it just happened to be open mic nights. After watching the same guys — no women — week after week, I remember thinking they needed to change up their material that didn't work. My husband said, "You could do better than those guys." So after a couple of months of writing and practicing in front of my 8mm camera with a floor buffer for a microphone, I signed up to try it. It was awesome! I was scared to death, but I still have that first set on tape. My favorite part is when I get my first real laugh. You can see a physical reaction. I call it the "look of the bug biting me." That was 16 years ago, Oct. 23, 1997.

Quentin "Q" Talley, actor/director for On Q Productions: It's a combination of things that made me interested in the arts and made me want to be an artist, specifically a full-time professional artist. Mostly, it happened after graduating college, working temp jobs, while hearing other folks complain about their regular 9-to-5s. I decided right then and there that I would quit my job and strictly focus on my career in the arts. This year marks nine years as a full-time artist. I wouldn't trade being an artist for anything.

Duy Huynh, artist: Basically, I wanted a job with long hours, unpredictable income, little social interaction, full of introspection and the occasional dash of self-doubt. A job where I am free to explore and express ideas that might transcend the limitations of everyday logic, but hopefully retain some connective resonance with an audience; a job where I can stay in my pajamas all day, even though I lose a lot of sleep over obsessing about colors, compositions and clarity of content. The process of creating a painting can be extremely frustrating, immensely cathartic and deeply comforting all at the same time. I have been in love with this process for about 15 years or so, and like any other loving relationship or dream one chases, it has its challenges. I feel incredibly fortunate to have this career and the support of so many people through the years. Perhaps the reason why I stay in my pajamas all day is because I feel like I'm living a dream each time I step in the studio — or maybe it's just more comfortable to paint in.

Add a comment